THE ORIGIN OF THE TAROT
The early history of the Tarot cards is shrouded in mystery. Some historians believe that they originated in China or India, others that they derived from the sacred books of ancient Egypt.
The Tarot deck is comprised of 78 cards representing various images and symbols of which 22 are designated as the 'Keys' or Major Arcana and 56 as Minor Arcana. Most probably the deck's construction and its symbols derive from various cultures. Historians generally believe that the deck was invented in 14th century Italy when images from a pictorial encyclopedia were combined in Venice with the Spanish set of numbered playing cards.
The symbols and images of the 22 Major Arcana contain a great wisdom and some theorists believe they have its origins in the mysteries of ancient Egypt. Others see a close conformity between the traditions of the Major Arcana and the Osirian Resurrection which was the most important part of Ancient Egyptian myth.
The 56 Minor Arcana are divided into four suits, which correspond with those of the ordinary cards, including an Ace and Court cards, except that each suit has 14 cards:
1. Cup (or Chalice): Hearts
2. Wand (or Lance): Diamonds
3. Sword: Spades
4. Pentacle - A five pointed star in a circle: Clubs
The four symbols are very ancient and appear in Folk-Lore, Romance, Christian iconography, magic rituals, and may have different meanings between cultures.
The Cup and the Wand/Lance are life symbols which have been connected together in a symbolic relation; they are sex symbols of immemorial antiquity. The Lance representing the male, and the Cup the female, reproductive energy. The Wand is represented in the Tarot as a strong, masculine object: a living wood with sprouting leaves. The Cup is an open feminine object, holding the life-sustaining liquid: water. These two symbols form a ritual dealing with the processes of life and reproductive vitality. One theory suggests that the original use of Tarot would seem to have been, not to foretell the Future in general, but to predict the rise and fall of the waters which brought fertility to the land.
In general, the Sword is a symbol of vitality, mental and physical strength. In Christianity the Sword is a symbol of indomitable power and divine truth. In the Book of Revelation, Christ appears … and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword (1.16). In ancient sagas and folk-lore swords are endowed with sacred nature and magic. In ancient Chinese depictions one can find magicians with swords to drive off demons.
Among Gnostics, the Pentacle was a fundamental symbol because they considered five a sacred number referring to light, air, wind, fire, and water. Pythagoras and his disciples considered the pentacle a sacred symbol of mind-body harmony; it thus became a symbol for health. The pentacle also appears in Christian iconography, where it is associated with the five stigmata of Christ. The pentacle is of particular significance in the symbology of Freemasonry. The symbol is supposed to remind us of the sun, which illuminates the earth with its rays and makes us mindful of our blessings, as it gives light and life to all who are on earth. The Pentacle is often found carved in the wood of old door frames and thresholds, as a sign to ward off demons.
Theorists and historians are still trying to explain the history and the meaning of the Tarot cards. The cards embody an aura of mystery and a power that should never be misused.